I first met Jae Lee in late 2012 through a mutual friend while Jae was sous chef at Morimoto’s eatery called Tribeca Canvas. Before they closed a year later, I was a regular there not just because it was across the street from my office, but because I enjoyed their Japanese take on comfort food (lamb ragu buns and braised pork ribs with a side of fried rice risotto was addictingly good). Jae did a short stint at Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare before landing at Lexington Brass. My next dinner with Jae was at Zuma where he fed my friend and me copious amounts of sushi, black miso cod, and a huge tray of dessert that turned us into Violet Beauregard twins.
A few months ago, I heard he was back in Morimoto’s camp as executive chef of an upcoming ramen shop so I made a note to visit on opening night. The wait was about 2 hrs so my crew went to grab a beer at a local bar.
April 8, 2016
The energy was electric as we made our way past the bottleneck of waiting patrons near the entrance. As expected, the crowd was 90% asian and some were already Instagramming their bowls of ramen.
We enjoyed a bottle of Morimoto-branded cold sake to start.
Our crew of four decided to share a few appetizers with standouts being Napa cabbage (the mustard was an intense kick to the stomach and was an effective palate cleanser) and fried sticky ribs (addicting marinade and impressively retained its juice despite being fried to a crisp).
We tried other apps such as the raw tuna, pork jowl with kimchi (I don’t usually like kimchi but I enjoyed the sauteed version here), Peking duck taco (love the ratio of meat and fatty skin as well as the crunchy taco but the overly sweet sauce overpowered everything) and the Kurobuta sausages (a bit salty for my taste).
For ramen, our table of 4 ordered 2/4 options...the tsukemen (the pork based broth is a concentrated punch of flavor) and the curry (super intense and creamy. Sesame paste lends a robust peanut flavor.)
A collaboration with Sun Noodle resulted in a special noodle that retained their QQ texture (chewy and springy).even after being submerged in the broth for a few minutes. Normal ramen noodles would have become soggy.
April 9, 2016
I was back just 24 hours later, this time with my friend @justafoodie and his friends. After putting his name down, we grabbed a pot of delicious matcha nearby at Ippodo Tea with his friend Danielle. An hour later, we were sitting down at Momosan when Morimoto himself popped up out of nowhere and greeted us graciously.
We ordered a few dishes I didn’t have the night before: the salmon belly and collar (delicate flavor but it wasn’t a lot of meat and slightly dry), the crispy pig ears (initially nervous but once I took a bite, I was a believer.
Perfectly crispy and paired well with the spicy mayo. Would order this every time). After last night’s heavy curry ramen, I went for the Tokyo chicken ramen with chicken broth. As expected, lighter flavor and less oily than pork based broth. The chicken was juicy and a healthier alternative to pork. Everyone else at the table enjoyed their ramen (which remained hot even after all the photo-taking.
After a quick picture with Morimoto, we grabbed ice cream at Ice and Vice.
April 23, 2016
After two visits, I still had yet to try the classic tonkotsu so after a few rousing matches of table tennis last weekend, my crew arrived at 5:30pm to avoid the impending line. For apps, we got the must orders: napa cabbage (the sharpness of the mustard was toned down a few levels but still great), the fried sticky ribs (flavor was still on point but the skin was no longer crisp), and the crispy pig ears (I could eat 5 lbs of this stuff). We also ordered the gyoza since none of us tried it out before.
It came out in a hot cast iron pan and when sake ginger emulsion was poured over it, there was sizzle and smoke as the alcohol burned off. The gyoza itself was pretty tasty and I'd probably order it again.
The tonkotsu came out with extra kakuni and Jae came out and cracked these beautifully poached eggs (onsen tamago) into the patiently waiting broth.
The silky yolk slowly spilled out and coated the strands of noodles for a luxurious bite. The broth itself wasn’t too salty and was slightly oily which is understandable from all the Berkshire pork bones (neck bones, back bones, split bones, feet, backfat and chicken bones) By the way, I was told that all bones and meat are natural and hormone-free.
The inclusion of chicken bones countered the broth from being overwhelmingly porky and rounded it out nicely.
After we finished, Morimoto came by to clear our bowls and pour us more makgeolli, a traditional Korean alcoholic beverage made by combining rice, yeast, and water with a starter culture called nuruk. It’s milky-white, fizzy and refreshing. It’s also called “nongju” which means “farmer liquor” because it’s made with a lot of rice, it’s full of carbohydrates and was traditionally served to farmers as part of a midmorning snack or with lunch, giving them the strength and energy to work the rest of the day
Jae Lee, Executive Chef at Momosan Ramen & Sake
1. What made you want to become a chef?
I never wanted to become a chef, it just kind of happened. 10 years ago I got a job as a ramen cook at a ramen ya in the east village, seeing how much work was put into the food and seeing the smiles on peoples faces after eating made me happy. I want to make people happy with food.
2. How did you get involved with morimoto's past projects and the current Momosan venture?
I helped open a Morimoto bistro 4 years ago, I was a jr. sous but got promoted to executive sous within 1 year. I worked very hard there along with the management team to make it the best it can be and chef Morimoto remembered that and called me back to be the executive chef at momosan ramen and sake.
3. What are your responsibilities as the executive chef? What is it like working side-by-side with Morimoto?
As an executive chef, I have a lot of responsibilities that is not just food related. I have to be the police, brother, father, friend, mentor, doctor, etc. Some days I have to break up an argument between cooks. I have to encourage those who are falling behind who look hopeless. It's more than a dish. It's family I have to oversee and guide. Working side by side with chef Morimoto is a blessing. He has so much experience and sees a lot and has a lot of energy and passion for the restaurant business. Whenever we spend time together, he always mentors me and gives me advice beyond what anyone else has done for me.
4. What kind of input did you have for Momosan during conception and execution?
It was mostly chef Morimoto's idea but my job was to execute it. I did add Korean influences on certain dishes and came up with recipes for his ideas such as crispy mimiga, buta kimchi, chashu bap, stamina tofu, chicken ramen, etc.
5. What is Momosan's vision and how is it different from other ramen shops?
Momosan is different from other ramen shops. Lunch time operates more like a ramen ya than during dinner. The dinner menu is much more extensive with a generous list of sake that makes it more like an izayaka.
- This isn't a ramen shop with a few appetizers thrown in as an afterthought. Here, the appetizers stand alone and offer a great complement to the ramen. After a few visits, here are my must ordes: napa cabbage, crispy pig ears, sticky ribs. Best to go with 4 people so you can sample the whole gamut of what they offer so you can find your favorites.
- As for ramen, I can see myself ordering any of the four depending on the context. If I'm feeling something light, I'd get the chicken ramen with the lighter broth or the tsukemen to control how much broth I want. For more flavor and traditional pork flavor, the classic tonkotsu would hit the spot. The curry one is the most intense in flavor. If you hate the taste of peanuts, I would skip this one. Remember to add the onsen tamago (poached egg) for extra silkiness.
- After you put your name and number down, head to Ippodo around the block to grab a calming matcha or genmaicha and wait for Momosan's call.
MOMOSAN RAMEN & SAKE
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